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Branching Out

An innovative yogi challenges our relationship to gravity.

By Heather Boerner

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As a kid growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Hal Pruessner loved to climb trees. And at age 55, he still does. One morning when the Dallas yogi was out running with his dogs, he stopped to do a few poses near an old oak.

"I thought to myself, 'I wonder if I could do yoga up in that tree?'" Pruessner recalls. "I climbed up and started doing some breathing and stretching. And it felt great but precarious."

As a former Marine parachutist who now sells industrial-grade slings (construction companies use them to move heavy pipes and other materials), Pruessner was familiar with how harnesses distribute weight. He figured if a sling could help move a three-ton pipe around a construction site, why couldn't a modified (albeit much smaller) sling support a yogi practicing in a tree? In the true spirit of innovation, Pruessner put together his engineering expertise, his love of yoga, and his sense of adventure and created the Tree Yoga Multi-Sling.

The slings are made of 7,500-pound-rated mountain-climbing webbing that, when attached to strong branches, allows yogis to turn trees into large and living yoga props similar to the rope walls sometimes employed with the Iyengar Yoga method. More than one sling can be looped together to support the body in different poses.

Since its introduction last year, the sling has garnered a lot of attention. Shiva Rea is a fan, and so are members of the performance-yoga troupe Tripsichore. Sunstone Yoga, a yoga franchise in Dallas with six open studios and seven more on their way, will install the slings at its new teacher training campus as a way to get students to think differently about yoga—and to have fun.

"I like to do Tree in a tree," says Dallas yoga instructor Helen Stutchbury, who also teaches at Sunstone. "Warrior poses are a lot of fun, using the trunk to support your feet.

"But the thing I like best is to hang upside down in Lotus," she continues. "The straps are really supportive, and hanging upside down allows the spine to stretch out. It's really restorative and restful." 

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